From the Pynchon List

2-HydroxyETHYL MERcaptan, also known as beta-mercaptoethanol is a substance that breaks sulfide bonds. It is most commonly used by hairstylists for perms and by molecular biologists. If anyone has ever had a perm, it is the stuff that stinks to high heaven (I think it is what causes rotten eggs to smell). Last year, while working at a research lab at UCLA, I dropped a bottle and the building had to be evacuated b/c of the smell.
This compound is used to denature proteins, thus causing them to lose their structure, activity, etc. The only relevance to Pynchon I can think of is that this compound contributes greatly to the process of entropy.

In response to which Bruce Sublett speculated:

I'll pop for a combination of Old English and Old French: Ethel (AEthel=prince or lordling: OE) and Mer (Fr. "Sea"). Ergo, Elthelmer = "prince of the sea."
Mason & Dixon Alpha Guide
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